THE humble crow is almost as synonymous to Wagga as the Hampden Bridge, the Murrumbidgee River or the many sportstars who have carved a name for themselves.
The bird is written and rewritten on official documents – and in the pages of this newspaper.
It hangs atop Baylis Street signs, bearing down on its citizens like a watchful eye.
And the city recently forked out thousands for artwork that gives the crow a permanent place by the water.
But we’ve got it all wrong, according to one academic.
Wagga does not mean “place of many crows” – its literal definition a combination of varying degrees of “dance” – a translation lost over time.
What I can imagine is European settlers have simply misheard the Wiradjuri people and it's evolved from there. There doesn't seem to be many crows about.Academic Tim Wess
Tim Wess, one of the first graduates of Charles Sturt University’s Wiradjuri language course, believes European settlers were mistaken when they first arrived.
The subtlety, Mr Wess said, and confirmed by respected Wiradjuri elder Stan Grant, is in the “a”.
He says only an extended vowel – “Waagan” – means crow.
“It’s not such a crazy thing to get wrong,” Mr Wess said.
“What I can imagine is they've simply misheard the Wiradjuri people and it’s evolved from there.
“From what I can gather, there doesn’t seem to be many crows about.”
Dr Grant – the Riverina’s leading Aboriginal elder – questioned whether the actual translation would ever be accepted.
“It’s been the place of many crows for so long,” he said.
“It will never change, it might 20 years from now, but at least it’s a good discussion point today.
“The pronunciations are just so close.”
Mr Wess hoped locals would “pause for thought” the next time they saw a Wagga crow and gain better appreciation of the Wiradjuri language.
What’s in a name?
- “Waga” – dancing
- “Wagawaga” – dances (plural)
- “Waganha” – dancing now
- “Waganhi” – danced
- “Wagagirri” – will dance
- “Wagadha!” – dance!
- “Waagan” – crow
- “Waaganwaagan” – crows (plural)
- Source: Stan Grant